Youth Arts at the Rosendale Theatre presents “Savannah Stories”

Pictured top row (l-r):Carrie Wykoff, Debbie Lan and Carole Caru Thompson. Bottom row (l-r): Rhiannon Sloane and Maitreya Motel. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Pictured top row (l-r):Carrie Wykoff, Debbie Lan and Carole Caru Thompson. Bottom row (l-r): Rhiannon Sloane and Maitreya Motel. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The Rosendale Theatre will soon resound with the upbeat Kwela-flavored rhythms of South Africa. It all starts when the budding performers of the Youth Arts at the Rosendale Theatre program take to the stage beginning Saturday, March 19 for a week-long performing arts immersion experience over spring break. Children ages eight through 14 will learn about staging and storytelling by acting out parts from “Savannah Stories,” a new musical by local singer, songwriter and musician Debbie Lan, based on traditional folk tales from her native South Africa.

The immersive experience culminates on Friday, March 25 at 5 p.m. with a family friendly live performance of an excerpt from “Savannah Stories.” The public is welcome. The event includes a performance by guest artist Carol Caru Thompson, master percussionist and storyteller who will keep the beat going on her West African shekere (“shake-a-ray”), a traditional beaded gourd instrument. Tickets cost $5 for children, $10 for adults. Proceeds raised will go toward future projects of Youth Arts at the Rosendale Theatre.

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The program debuted last summer with a similar week-long immersion experience that also culminated in a live performance of an original work. Since then, the young performers have worked with Amy Trompetter of Rosendale-based Redwing Blackbird [puppet] Theater, and they recently collaborated with Kingston’s Center for Creative Education for a performance honoring Black History Month.

As director of the Youth Arts program, Carrie Wykoff says her intention is to provide opportunities for local youngsters to learn about the performance arts and gain stage experience through collaboration with theater professionals. “There is such an abundance of teaching artists and creative people in the Hudson Valley. We really want to bring these artists to Rosendale to let their genius and experience shine through, and share that with the youth in the area.”

A lifelong performer herself and founding board member of the Rosendale Theatre Collective, Wykoff says she was inspired to create the Youth Arts program in part simply as the mother of a ten-year-old daughter who was beginning to be interested in expressing herself through theater and finding there weren’t many opportunities for kids to do that in the area. Doing the program at the Rosendale Theatre not only allows the youthful participants to be able to create something on the historic stage, she adds, “it fits right in with the mission of the Rosendale Theatre as an organization, which is based on collaboration and a celebration of creativity.”

Debbie Lan will serve as musical director for the immersion week and culminating performance in Rosendale. She is a teaching artist at High Meadow School in Stone Ridge but is also known locally as the leader of the “family music” band, Grenadilla (the South African name for passionfruit). The group’s joyful songs are filled with multi-layered voices underpinned by that distinctive skiffle-like beat and pennywhistle-based Kwela sound drawn from Lan’s Cape Town roots.

The tales in “Savannah Stories” are told through animal characters. “The excerpt that we’re going to be performing is about animals that live on the savannah and how they band together as a community to help each other through hardship,” says Wykoff.

Future plans for the Youth Arts program include a family event for the upcoming International Jazz Day in May. “We’re also planning to do a longer intensive in the fall that would culminate in a performance piece happening around the holidays,” she adds, “and in between looking to book special workshops and things like that.”

More information is available by contacting Wykoff at carrie@eventsthatmatter.net.

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